Bringing «democracy» to Iraq - General Taguba's report and its aftermatch

17 June 2007.
  • Once again, Seymour Hersh has lifted the veil intended to disguise the nature of the «democracy» that the United States has been bringing to various fortunate countries around the world during the four decades he has been covering its vagaries, from his account of the massacre at My Lai to his articles on US plans to bomb Iran and now in the latest issue of the New Yorker, The general's report, an account of the fate of the report prepared by Major General Antonio Taguba on the torture of Iraqi prisoners carried out at Abu Ghraib, the consequences of the report for General Taguba's career, and - which is our theme here although Mr Hersh never addresses it directly - the nature of the «democracy» bestowed not only upon Iraq, but also upon the armed forces of the United States and, I submit, the United States as a whole.

      I learned from Taguba that the first wave of materials included descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees. Several of these images, including one of an Iraqi woman detainee baring her breasts, have since surfaced; others have not. (Taguba’s report noted that photographs and videos were being held by the C.I.D. because of ongoing criminal investigations and their “extremely sensitive nature.”) Taguba said that he saw “a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.” The video was not made public in any of the subsequent court proceedings, nor has there been any public government mention of it. Such images would have added an even more inflammatory element to the outcry over Abu Ghraib. “It’s bad enough that there were photographs of Arab men wearing women’s panties,” Taguba said.

    (Here, I can't help recalling a conversation with another participant on a web forum I used to frequent, who felt that the treatment accorded prisoners at Abu Ghraib could by no means be considered torture, and forcing people to wear women's panties wasn't so bad....)

      In subsequent testimony, General Myers, the J.C.S. chairman, acknowledged, without mentioning the e-mails, that in January information about the photographs had been given “to me and the Secretary up through the chain of command. . . . And the general nature of the photos, about nudity, some mock sexual acts and other abuse, was described.”

      Nevertheless, Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse. “It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,’ ” Rumsfeld told the congressmen. “I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t.”

      Rumsfeld told the legislators that, when stories about the Taguba report appeared, “it was not yet in the Pentagon, to my knowledge.” As for the photographs, Rumsfeld told the senators, “I say no one in the Pentagon had seen them”; at the House hearing, he said, “I didn’t see them until last night at 7:30.” Asked specifically when he had been made aware of the photographs, Rumsfeld said:

        There were rumors of photographs in a criminal prosecution chain back sometime after January 13th . . . I don’t remember precisely when, but sometime in that period of January, February, March. . . . The legal part of it was proceeding along fine. What wasn’t proceeding along fine is the fact that the President didn’t know, and you didn’t know, and I didn’t know.

      “And, as a result, somebody just sent a secret report to the press, and there they are,” Rumsfeld said.

      Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld’s testimony was simply not true. “The photographs were available to him—if he wanted to see them,” Taguba said. Rumsfeld’s lack of knowledge was hard to credit. Taguba later wondered if perhaps Cambone had the photographs and kept them from Rumsfeld because he was reluctant to give his notoriously difficult boss bad news. But Taguba also recalled thinking, “Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There’s no way he’s suffering from C.R.S.—Can’t Remember Shit. He’s trying to acquit himself, and a lot of people are lying to protect themselves.” It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.


      Taguba learned that in August, 2003, as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq was gaining force, the Pentagon had ordered Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander at Guantánamo, to Iraq. His mission was to survey the prison system there and to find ways to improve the flow of intelligence. The core of Miller’s recommendations, as summarized in the Taguba report, was that the military police at Abu Ghraib should become part of the interrogation process: they should work closely with interrogators and intelligence officers in “setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees.”

      Taguba concluded that Miller’s approach was not consistent with Army doctrine, which gave military police the overriding mission of making sure that the prisons were secure and orderly. His report cited testimony that interrogators and other intelligence personnel were encouraging the abuse of detainees. “Loosen this guy up for us,” one M.P. said he was told by a member of military intelligence. “Make sure he has a bad night.”

      The M.P.s, Taguba said, “were being literally exploited by the military interrogators. My view is that those kids”—even the soldiers in the photographs—“were poorly led, not trained, and had not been given any standard operating procedures on how they should guard the detainees.”


      Despite the subsequent public furor over Abu Ghraib, neither the House nor the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings led to a serious effort to determine whether the scandal was a result of a high-level interrogation policy that encouraged abuse. At the House Committee hearing on May 7, 2004, a freshman Democratic congressman, Kendrick Meek, of Florida, asked Rumsfeld if it was time for him to resign. Rumsfeld replied, “I would resign in a minute if I thought that I couldn’t be effective. . . . I have to wrestle with that.” But, he added, “I’m certainly not going to resign because some people are trying to make a political issue out of it.” (Rumsfeld stayed in office for the next two and a half years, until the day after the 2006 congressional elections.) When I spoke to Meek recently, he said, “There was no way Rumsfeld didn’t know what was going on. He’s a guy who wants to know everything, and what he was giving us was hard to believe.”


      Later that month, Rumsfeld appeared before a closed hearing of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which votes on the funds for all secret operations in the military. Representative David Obey, of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat at the hearing, told me that he had been angry when a fellow subcommittee member “made the comment that ‘Abu Ghraib was the price of defending democracy.’ I said that wasn’t the way I saw it, and that I didn’t want to see some corporal made into a scapegoat. This could not have happened without people in the upper echelon of the Administration giving signals. I just didn’t see how this was not systemic.”

      Obey asked Rumsfeld a series of pointed questions. Taguba attended the closed hearing with Rumsfeld and recalled him bristling at Obey’s inquiries. “I don’t know what happened!” Rumsfeld told Obey. “Maybe you want to ask General Taguba.”

      Taguba got a chance to answer questions on May 11th, when he was summoned to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Under-Secretary Stephen Cambone sat beside him. (Cambone was Rumsfeld’s point man on interrogation policy.) Cambone, too, told the committee that he hadn’t known about the specific abuses at Abu Ghraib until he saw Taguba’s report, “when I was exposed to some of those photographs.”

      Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, tried to focus on whether Abu Ghraib was the consequence of a larger detainee policy. “These acts of abuse were not the spontaneous actions of lower-ranking enlisted personnel,” Levin said. “These attempts to extract information from prisoners by abusive and degrading methods were clearly planned and suggested by others.” The senators repeatedly asked about General Miller’s trip to Iraq in 2003. Did the “Gitmo-izing” of Abu Ghraib—especially the model of using the M.P.s in “setting the conditions” for interrogations—lead to the abuses?

      Cambone confirmed that Miller had been sent to Iraq with his approval, but insisted that the senators were “misreading General Miller’s intent.” Questioned on that point by Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, Cambone said, “I don’t know that I was being told, and I don’t know that General Miller said that there should be that kind of activity that you are ascribing to his recommendation.”

      Reed then asked Taguba, “Was it clear from your reading of the [Miller] report that one of the major recommendations was to use guards to condition these prisoners?” Taguba replied, “Yes, sir. That was recommended on the report.”


      The Army also protected General Miller. Since 2002, F.B.I. agents at Guantánamo had been telling their superiors that their military counterparts were abusing detainees. The F.B.I. complaints were ignored until after Abu Ghraib. When an investigation was opened, in December, 2004, General Craddock, Rumsfeld’s former military aide, was in charge of the Army’s Southern Command, with jurisdiction over Guantánamo—he had been promoted a few months after Taguba’s visit to Rumsfeld’s office. Craddock appointed Air Force Lieutenant General Randall M. Schmidt, a straight-talking fighter pilot, to investigate the charges, which included alleged abuses during Miller’s tenure.

      “I followed the bread-crumb trail,” Schmidt, who retired last year, told me. “I found some things that didn’t seem right. For lack of a camera, you could have seen in Guantánamo what was seen at Abu Ghraib.”

      Schmidt found that Miller, with the encouragement of Rumsfeld, had focussed great attention on the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was believed to be the so-called “twentieth hijacker.” Qahtani was interrogated “for twenty hours a day for at least fifty-four days,” Schmidt told investigators from the Army Inspector General’s office, who were reviewing his findings. “I mean, here’s this guy manacled, chained down, dogs brought in, put in his face, told to growl, show teeth, and that kind of stuff. And you can imagine the fear.”

      At Guantánamo, Schmidt told the investigators, Miller “was responsible for the conduct of interrogations that I found to be abusive and degrading. The intent of those might have been to be abusive and degrading to get the information they needed. . . . Did the means justify the ends? That’s fine. . . . He was responsible.”

      At another point, after Taguba confirmed that military intelligence had taken control of the M.P.s following Miller’s visit, Levin questioned Cambone:

        LEVIN: Do you disagree with what the general just said?
        CAMBONE: Yes, sir.
        LEVIN: Pardon?
        CAMBONE: I do.

      Taguba, looking back on his testimony, said, “That’s the reason I wasn’t in their camp—because I kept on contradicting them. I wasn’t about to lie to the committee. I knew I was already in a losing proposition. If I lie, I lose. And, if I tell the truth, I lose.”

    What the consequences were for the prisoners detained at Abu Ghraib (and elsewhere) of the policies put into effect at the highest levels of the US government we know : torture, degradation, and in some cases, death. What then, were the consequences of his report for General Takuba ?

      In January of 2006, Taguba received a telephone call from General Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff. “This is your Vice,” he told Taguba. “I need you to retire by January of 2007.” No pleasantries were exchanged, although the two generals had known each other for years, and, Taguba said, “He offered no reason.” (A spokesperson for Cody said, “Conversations regarding general officer management are considered private personnel discussions. General Cody has great respect for Major General Taguba as an officer, leader, and American patriot.”)

      “They always shoot the messenger,” Taguba told me. “To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal—that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracized for doing what I was asked to do.”

      Taguba went on, “There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff”—the explicit images—“was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this.” He said that Rumsfeld, his senior aides, and the high-ranking generals and admirals who stood with him as he misrepresented what he knew about Abu Ghraib had failed the nation.

      “From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

    The conclusions to be drawn from all this are, as always, up to the reader ; as Mr Hersh's story makes abundantly clear, the dictates of conscience vary from individual to individual. My own conclusions are made plain in my posting to StumbleUpon, below :

I am surprised by and full of admiration for the courage, honesty, and sense of duty exhibited by General Taguba. Alas, his fate shows that he is hardly representative of those who man (all those mentioned in Seymour Hersh's report are men) the higher echelons of the US Armed Forces and the US Government, whose performance has been distincly less than impressive. But who among us is surprised at this fact ? It is General Taguba who is the anomaly, not those who ordered or who performed the torture at Abu Ghraib - or Guantánamo or the secret prisons maintained by the CIA in Eastern Europe, Mauritius, etc, etc. A fish rots from the head, as the saying goes, and this one has been stinking for a long, long time....

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